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Greg Bluestein

A new legislative tradition: Post-midnight Sine Die votes

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A scene from the final day of the 2013 Georgia Legislature, when lawmakers let the papers fly. AJC Political Insider helps reader sift and sort the world of Georgia politics, politicians and elections.

A scene from the final day of the 2013 Georgia Legislature, when lawmakers let the papers fly. AJC 

It wasn’t so long ago that midnight was revered as the hard-and-fast deadline for the final day of Georgia’s legislative session. Sponsors would rush to pass bills before the stroke of midnight and opponents would filibuster. Once, a lawmaker almost broke his neck trying to stop the clock. Many a headline described a “race to midnight.”

Not so much anymore. Last year’s session might have set a new precedent. The witching hour came in the House, where lawmakers and their families and friends celebrated the adjournment by filling the room with scraps of confetti-like paper.

But Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle kept the state Senate in session, where lawmakers passed a range of tax breaks that included incentives for Mercedes-Benz’s new headquarters and a private Baptist college.

“For time eternal, this day has ended at midnight,” House Speaker David Ralston said at the time. “It is going to end at midnight today in the House even though I understand the other chamber may stay later.”

Our friends over at Politifact weighed in then with the ruling that lawmakers are free to press beyond midnight. “Lawmakers meet for 40 legislative days,” read the conclusion, “which end only when the chambers adjourn.”

State lawmakers this year must have heeded their advice. Both chambers went about a half-hour beyond midnight, despite scattered admonitions from some legislators.

“This is not how we should be doing business,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, minutes before taking the podium to present his own legislation.

And then there was state Sen. Vincent Fort, the Atlanta Democrat who complained of the slippery slope of the midnight-extending practice.

“The senator has great passion for which he speaks,” said Cagle, before allowing about a dozen more votes.

More: Read all about other Sine Die shenanigans here.